Bichon freeze: One sick puppy

Stasha Amra got an early Valentine's Day present from her boyfriend: a bichon frise puppy. But instead of coming home with her, the purebred pup spent his first few days in critical condition at a vet's.

Amra and her boyfriend visited Twin Poplar Kennels in Boonville to choose a dog. She says the puppy seemed thin and lifeless, made a continuous groaning sound, and was never set down to stand on its own feet.

"We had a gut feeling something was wrong with the puppy, but they assured us it was normal and healthy," says Amra.

She also thought it odd she wasn't allowed to see the puppy's parents.

Accompanied by her friend Diane Hawley, she returned on January 24 to pick up the $500 dog she named Ashby.

"The dog wouldn't wake up," says Hawley. "They said he was just sleepy."

On the drive back to town, the friends attempted to play with the puppy. But he seemed unable to support the weight of his own head.

"His head fell over, and I thought he was dead," says Hawley. "We went straight to the vet."

The vet didn't like what he saw.

"He was in a deplorable state," says Dr. Charles Wood, the owner and chief veterinarian at Old Dominion Animal Hospital. "He was very dehydrated, wasn't eating, and seemed depressed."

A dog's normal body temperature should be between 101 and 102 degrees. Wood says Ashby's temperature was 96.

"He was in the cooling-off-to-die phase," says Wood. "Within 12 hours the dog would have been dead."

While Wood couldn't pinpoint the cause of Ashby's distress, he does attribute it to neglect. "The puppy wasn't getting proper care," he says.

Amra's friend Hawley filed a complaint with Greene County's animal control department. The complaint is "under investigation," according to Lieutenant Charles Swingler.

Potential charges: misrepresentation of an animal's condition, improper veterinary care of an animal, and sale without a pet-dealer animal history.

Nathan Yoder owns the family-run kennel. He says he was out of town when Ashby was sold and declines to say who did sell the puppy.

"Everything has been taken care of," says Yoder, who paid Ashby's $700 vet bill. "Obviously the puppy wasn't feeling well. When I got back, I promptly took care of it."

Dr. Wood doesn't believe Ashby suddenly fell through the cracks at the kennel, and he, too, wrote a letter to Greene animal control. "I said it had to have been going on for a long time," Wood reports.

"We're consulting with the commonwealth's attorney," says Greene Sheriff Scott Haas. "At this point, no charges have been filed."

"I don't think we're going to press charges since he paid the vet bill," says Hawley.

Amra and Hawley wonder, however, why a breeder would sell a dog in that condition. Twin Poplar Kennels currently advertises cocker spaniels, Labrador retrievers, and bichon frises on the Internet. Hawley bought a red poodle from Yoder 10 years ago, and her sister bought a cockapoo three years ago.

Both claim that, like Amra, they were not allowed to see the parents of their pups.

"That is false," says Yoder of Amra's charge. But then he adds, "I wasn't there. I can't verify that."

Breeding multiple breeds raises concerns for Wood. "They have to keep track of who's bred to whom," he says. "Puppies need a lot of extra care."

Yoder says he "chooses not to disclose" how many dogs he sells a year and how long he's been in the dog-breeding business.

The American Kennel Club says Yoder has registered dogs and litters with the AKC for several years, but the club couldn't provide a specific number. And the Greene County SPCA reports no complaints about Twin Poplar Kennels.

Certainly Yoder has plenty of satisfied customers. He runs a farm stand across the road from Hunt Country Store, and store-owner Nancy Kallander bought a chocolate Lab puppy named Mandy from him on February 5.

"She's sweet," says Kallander. "The puppy dogs were all healthy and happy. She seems very healthy."

The Labrador puppies were in the yard when Kallander arrived at the farm, so she did not see the kennels. Nor did she meet Mandy's parents.

Still, she says her experience was the "complete opposite" of Amra's. "I've known him for a long time," says Kallander. "His farm is well managed."

And when Kallander goes out of town in a few weeks, she plans to leave Mandy at Yoder's kennel.


Two weeks after being rushed to the veterinarian, Ashby barks playfully in the background during a call to his house, demanding Amra's attention.

Although he weighed less than a pound when he was brought to the vet, Ashby's now up to 2.3 pounds. Still, that's one-third the weight of his brother from the same litter who was adopted by a North Carolina family.

Ashby has gone from a skinny listless pup to what the AKC describes as typical for his breed: "a small, sturdy, white powder puff of a dog whose merry temperament is evidenced by his plumed tail carried jauntily over the back."

This Valentine's tale wags.

Bichon frise Ashby was hours from death two weeks ago, but after a $700 vet visit, the $500 pup is ready to celebrate Valentine's with his new owner, Stasha Amra.


Ashby couldn't lift his head when he first came home with his new owners.